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NBC Has Picked Its Next Musical to Broadcast Live. Who Should Star in It? Here's One Idea TVWeek

By Chuck Ross

With its recent broadcast of “The Sound of Music” starring Carrie Underwood attracting more than 20 million viewers in two showings on NBC, the network has announced another musical for the December holiday season this year: “Peter Pan.”

The musical "Peter Pan" will air Thursday, Dec. 4, 2014, and will be broadcast live, at least on the East Coast.

The team that brought us NBC’s “The Sound of Music” -- executive producers Craig Zadan and Neil Meron -- will also bring us "Peter Pan."

Robert Greenblatt, chairman of NBC Entertainment, made the announcement today, Sunday, Jan. 19, 2014, at the TV Critics Association press tour at the Langham Hotel in Pasadena, Calif.

Greenblatt said he has someone in mind to play the lead role, but he did not say who.

Now, some personal thoughts about NBC’s choice of “Peter Pan,” and who the network should recruit to star in the show. In my TVWeek Open Mic review of “The Sound of Music,” I said I thought that production was seriously undermined by Underwood’s poor acting. In that same review I also wrote at length about NBC’s multiple airings of Mary Martin as Peter Pan in the 1950s and 1960s. For many of us baby boomers, that NBC-TV production is among our fondest childhood TV memories. So kudos to Greenblatt, Zadan, Meron and their colleagues for picking this terrific family musical.

To be clear, this version of "Peter Pan" -- which played on Broadway in 1955 -- does not have the familiar songs that were in the 1953 Disney animated version of “Peter Pan,” which included “You Can Fly” and “A Pirate’s Life.”

For me, this is a good thing -- I prefer the score of the Mary Martin version, with songs such as “I’m Flying” and “I Won't Grow Up,” among others. The songs for the NBC version were written by Carolyn Leigh, Moose Charlap, Jule Styne, Betty Comden and Adolph Green.

Here’s my dream casting for the upcoming 2014 NBC version of “Peter Pan.” As previously mentioned, Mary Martin played Peter in the earlier NBC version, and, it’s common for a woman to play the part. Katy Perry would be outstanding. For one, she’s already flown high above a live audience on a TV show -- she did it at the Kids Choice Awards several years ago. NBC needs to make sure she can act, but my gut tells me she’d be perfect. Perry can easily muster that impeccable combination of charm, mischief and wonderment that Peter Pan must embody. Plus she would bring both a tremendous singing voice and a tremendous family-friendly audience of millions to the broadcast.

And for the part of Captain Hook -- made so memorable in the 1955 version by the sensational Cyril Ritchard – what a coup if NBC could get Johnny Depp. He’d be perfect to reinvent a part that Ritchard carried off with such impeccable flamboyance half a century ago. Yes, with Jack Sparrow Depp has already done a pirate to a fare-thee-well, but Sparrow ain’t Captain Hook. The part would present Depp with a whole other set of challenges, and I’ll bet he’d jump at the chance to be in this live family-friendly production (with, hopefully, Katy Perry) that will be seen by millions. Please, NBC, at least make a serious attempt at getting him.

Now, here are the comments I made in my review last month about the original "Peter Pan" on NBC:

The original, live version of “Peter Pan,” starring Mary Martin as that boy who never grows up, was seen as part of NBC’s "Producer’s Showcase” on Monday night, March 7, 1955. Before airing, the show had had a limited run on Broadway. When it was shown by NBC, it was seen by 65 million viewers, at that time the largest audience to ever have watched a TV program. It was so successful that NBC had Martin and the cast -- including Cyril Ritchard as a wonderfully over-the-top Captain Hook -- perform it live, on-air, again the next year.

By 1960, videotape and color were working pretty well, so NBC recruited Martin -- then appearing on Broadway as Maria in the original stage version of “The Sound of Music” -- to stage “Peter Pan” one last time. From then on this color videotape version was repeated several times on TV, and then later transferred to VHS and DVD for us to see it anytime we want, at home.

Jack Gould, who was the first TV reviewer for The New York Times, had watched and reviewed hundreds of TV shows between 1947 and that Monday night in March 1955 when "Peter Pan" originally aired live on NBC. He wrote that the show was an “exhilarating tonic. ... The magic of
TV and the wonder of make-believe were joined in an experience not soon to be forgotten. What made ‘Peter Pan’ so supremely delightful? Miss Martin, yes; many times yes. Cyril Ritchard as Captain Hook too. Sir James M. Barrie [who wrote the original play] as well. But there was something elusive and indefinable, a quality and a heart. Call it sublime fusion of skill and inspiration. … The greatness of the ‘Peter Pan’ telecast stemmed from a marriage of media under ideal circumstances. The advantages of ‘live’ television and the advantages of living theatre were merged as one. Alone neither medium could have offered the miracle of Monday evening.”

“Peter Pan” also worked so well, Gould wrote, because of the brilliance of the production, in “the heavenly flying through the air of Miss Martin, in her glorious performance that had spontaneity and yet was so professionally perfect and assured. The dances of Jerome Robbins? How different in their originality from the TV norm. And the style of Mr. Ritchard, so sure and deft and magnificent fun. There were, in short, many jewels, each brought to its own distinctive sparkle by patience, imagination and fantastic hard work.”

A copy of the 1960 color version of the NBC production of “Peter Pan” was on DVD, but it’s long out-of-print and a used copy usually goes for at least $100 on ebay.

However, you can find it -- the entire 100-minute production, in color -- on YouTube if you click here. The color isn’t the best, and it’s blurry, but at least you can watch it if you’d like. (Hey, NBC, it’s been up there since 2012 and has more than 200,000 hits, so please, don’t make YouTube take it down.)

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